“Attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator. It asks what is relevant right now, and gears us up to notice only that.” — Alexandra Horowitz, cognitive scientist


In Section 2-A, we asked you to find 10 hours of fixed time and 10 hours of flex time each week that you can devote to college studies in addition to time spent attending classes. Budgeting enough time for college is an important part of setting yourself up for success, but it’s only half the battle. It’s also crucial to learn to manage your attention.

There are only 168 hours in a week. Everyone has this same resource. The key to making the most of your time is learning to focus your attention during the periods that you have dedicated to college work.

Write a To-Do List

  • Each day, make a list of what you need to do.
  • Identify the three most important items and do these first.
  • Toward the end of the day, review your To-Do list to assess which items you have accomplished.
  • Work to complete remaining items.
  • Then, put unfinished items on tomorrow’s To-Do list and prioritize again.
  • Before going to bed, mentally review your list as you prepare for the next day.

 Important Tasks Take Attention

Whether you’re in class or studying, put down your phone! Turn off notifications. We need to honor our ability to think clearly and creatively, and that’s not possible if your attention is constantly drawn away from your work.

Interruptions: BEWARE! The brain can take 20 minutes to be able to focus again after an interruption.

The mechanism of attention is selection: it’s either this or it’s that. Attention, like time, is a finite resource.

Where is Your Energy Going?

What time of day is your most energetic? Do you wake up early without the alarm clock? Do you feel ready to go in the late afternoon? Figure out your most productive times, and use them to tackle your most challenging assignments.

Fuel your energy by giving yourself adequate nutrition, exercise, and rest. Don’t skip meals during the day while you’re on campus—explore the cafeteria offerings or pack a nutritious lunch! Take time for a workout at the City Tech gym, a brisk walk…or walk up the stairs to your classroom rather than taking the elevator. Most importantly, respect the sleep hours that you’ve set aside in your schedule. Sleep is essential to the brain’s ability not only to recharge but also to consolidate new knowledge.

Consider your mental and emotional energy: What will help you concentrate?

Take Breaks

We retain information better if we study material in shorter timed segments. Stuffing a lot of material into our short-term memory all at once and hoping we remember it doesn’t work. Information acquired that way is lost very quickly because it is not connected to what you learned previously.

Skilled athletes use the interval training method because they know they can’t change their bodies all at once. Your brain is like a muscle. Study for an hour. Or for 30 minutes. Even start with 15-minute increments: How long can you concentrate without interruption? Then take a short break. Study for another stretch of time – maybe longer. Take a break. Repeat.

Find A Study Partner or Study Group

In your classes, observe and identify which of your classmates ask good questions. Invite them to study with you. Your colleagues can help you understand concepts that you have not mastered yet. You can share notes, questions, and ideas. Classmates can help you stay motivated to do your work and offer ways to solve problems that you had not considered. When you are finished studying, whether alone or with a group, set up your next study session. This will enable you to focus quickly when you sit down to study again.

 Devote Time to College Work Every Day

While you will identify some days as more intensive study days, do small tasks related to college work every day. This daily habit will keep you focused. Even when you’re not studying, you may have a great idea. Write it down. The subconscious is a wonderful tool (especially if you get enough sleep)!

 Learn How to Say “No”

While you are adjusting to college, others may expect you to be as available for them as you were before. They may not understand the pressures you are experiencing for school. Saying “no” to friends or family is probably one of the hardest things to do. You must be dedicated enough to your goals to make sacrifices in your social life.

You only have 168 hours each week.

Plan now to take charge of your learning!



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The Companion for the First Year at City Tech Copyright © by Office of First Year Programs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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